When It Comes to Employee Engagement, Managers Have the Greatest Impact


OK, here's a question that everyone asks but nobody ever seems to answer: Why isn't employee engagement improving?

It's a good question considering all the time and money organizations put into measuring and trying to improve engagement, but I've never seen a definitive answer on why it's so hard to get workers to be more fully engaged.

That's why this recent Gallup poll is worth digging into, because it finds that the big reason that employees aren't more engaged is pretty simple — it's all because of the managers.

Why isn't engagement improving?

Gallup asks the question, "why isn't engagement improving?" Here is their response:

Gallup estimates that managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement across business units. When Gallup asked U.S. managers why they thought their company hired them for their current role, managers commonly said the organization promoted them because of their success in a previous non-managerial role, or they cited their tenure in their company or field. Unfortunately, these criteria miss a crucial element: the right talent to succeed as a manager."

They buttress this finding with some other "basics" when it comes to managers:

  • Gallup estimates that only about one in 10 people naturally possess high talent to manage.
  • Organizations name the wrong person as manager about 80 percent of the time.
  • One in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager and improve their overall life at some point in their career.

Powerful results when employees are truly engaged

Gallup adds that "companies that fail to engage their employees are missing out on the powerful results that come from engagement."

Their latest employee engagement meta-analysis shows that business units in the top quartile:

  • Are 17 percent more productive;
  • Experience 70 percent fewer safety incidents;
  • Experience 41 percent less absenteeism;
  • Have 10 percent better customer ratings; and,
  • Are 21 percent more profitable compared with business units in the bottom quartile.

My take: With only 13 percent of employees worldwide engaged at work, employee engagement is a huge problem — and a missed opportunity — for most organizations. But as Gallup notes, little has been done about it considering that the engagement number "has barely budged since Gallup began reporting engagement worldwide in 2009, meaning that the vast majority of workplaces have failed to engage their employees."

It stands to reason that management is the key, and given the terrible state of management in America, it isn't a big surprise that the key to better engagement is the manager.

Gallup hits this pretty bluntly. They says that, "Given the troubling state of employee engagement in companies worldwide, it follows that most managers aren't creating environments in which employees feel engaged -- or involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace."

A strengths-based focus may be one solution

So, what should be done to drive more engagement?

Gallup doesn't have a definitive answer, but they do focus on one promising approach: strengths-based management practices. They write:

For organizations seeking to improve performance on crucial business outcomes, strengths-based development is a proven solution. To boost their business, leaders need to start developing people based on what is right with them."

It's an intriguing idea, and Gallup has some data that shows how well strengths-based management is doing in driving more engagement with employees. There may be other solutions — hiring and training better managers would be a big one — but until that happens, focusing on your employee's strengths may be the best way to get the engagement score to start to rise.